No, the Zen Master himself didn't officially turn down the position the Lakers dangled in front him. Rather, his increasingly long list of requests bordering on demands did it for him.
Which is why I'm stunned that Jackson himself is stunned, according to a report from Ramona Shelburne and Chris Broussard of ESPN.com. Apparently, the 11-ring wielding Jackson was surprised to learn that the Lakers opted to hire Mike D'Antoni:
Phil Jackson was prepared to return to the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday morning if negotiations between his agent and the team went well, a league source told ESPNLosAngeles.com late Sunday night.
When the Lakers called to tell Jackson that they had instead chosen Mike D'Antoni to be their next head coach, he was "stunned," according to the source, because he had been under the impression "it was his job to turn down," although no formal offer had ever been made.
Can we really blame Jackson for believing the job was his?
On the heels of the Mike Brown firing, everyone was led to believe that Los Angeles had no intention of contacting anyone else.
Naturally, this gave Jackson more than leverage—it gave him absolute control.
Or so he thought.
Because shortly after his name was thrown back into Tinseltown's fray, the requests came.
As Shelburne and Broussard note, Jackson was asking for the world—a world that included travel restrictions, ample organizational power, an owner's stake and a lucrative salary.
While spending money is an act the Lakers will never shy away from, Jackson was pushing it with the rest of his demands.
A sequel to the power struggle that ensued between Jim Buss and Jackson during his second stint in Los Angeles had to be something the franchise was none to keen on. Either Buss or Jackson was going to come out of this pairing with a bitter taste in their mouth.
Then there's the ownership stake.
Perhaps the Lakers were willing to provide that to Jackson. Or perhaps they didn't want that kind of connection between coach and organization. He's already dating Jeanie Buss—did the team really want him involved even more?
Lastly, we have the travel restrictions, which I view as most detrimental to this cause.
Per Shelburne and Broussard, Jackson didn't intend to miss any more road games than he usually did, a notion that's hardly comforting. Not only does that mean Jackson was admitting that he would miss games, but his active plan was to try and not miss more than he wanted to.
I understand health is an issue, but that's going too far, even for one of the greatest sideline fixtures of all time.
It doesn't matter that he would have mentored Scottie Pippen or attempted to poach Brian Shaw from the Indiana Pacers. If the Lakers were to hire Jackson, they needed all of him, not a fraction of him.
We're talking about a team that would have had to re-implement the Triangle offense midseason. To undertake such a quest without a guarantee that the man behind the blueprint would be too much of a risk.
Let's not forget that Jackson couldn't provide extensive stability either. He couldn't sign a long-term deal, because even he himself could not predict how long he could coach for.
Theoretically, then, Jackson could have traipsed his way out the door after this season. Or maybe next. Or maybe the one after that. We don't know, and neither did the Lakers.
When you're trying to build not just a contender, but a dynasty, you need stability, you need continuity. Not only could Jackson not provide that on a year-to-year basis, he couldn't even provide it on a game-to-game basis.
What ultimately made the Lakers hire Mike D'Antoni over Phil Jackson?
And personally, if I'm the Lakers' brass, I'm going to want more bang for my eight-figures of buck than Jackson could provide or wanted to provide.
Make no mistake that concessions had to be made on Los Angeles' end. Jackson was the best. But the key word there is was.
Presently, Jackson couldn't make the Lakers whole, because he himself isn't whole. Asking for the world in addition to admitting he couldn't be 100 percent committed was just too much for the organization to concede.
So Los Angeles was forced to look past Jackson—to look past everything he had accomplished.
Often times, less can be more, but asking for more while admitting you're going to do less is never a recipe for success.